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is that the reader's interest is aroused at once, his attention to the arguments is more willingly given, and his concurrence with the results more ready.
So far as it is possible in these exercises, argue local questions. Has there been a fire in your neighborhood recently which was suspected to be of incendiary origin? Is there a suspicion that the late acts of vandalism on the school grounds were committed by persons not connected with the school ? Ferret out all the evidence you can and present it in a convincing form.
Questions of Fact : Resolved, That there was a pre-Columbian Discovery of America.
That the American Indians are Descended from the
traction of the Earth's Crust.
Debate is argumentation on both or all sides of a question, usually conducted by two or more persons, each of whom represents one side. It is presumably the best way of arriving at truth and settling unsettled questions. It has often been skeptically remarked that debate convinces nobody. This is true only of those who will not see, of whom it has been said that there
are none so blind. Daily does it become more and more evident that among intelligent, fair-minded men and women debate is a valuable means for the formation of opinions. When one argues a question alone, from his own point of view, he should of course try to concede everything that may be said from the opposite point of view. But it is not likely that he will find so much to say on the other side nor support it so strongly as one whose convictions lie on that side. Hence the advantage of having several parties to the discussion. They may not succeed in convincing one another, but they will certainly help an unprejudiced non-participator to a conviction.
While debates are commonly oral, as in debating societies, political, educational, and religious gatherings, law courts, parliamentary sessions, etc., they are by no means always so. Many are to be found in our magazines of a certain class, The North American Review, Popular Science Monthly, Forum, Arena. It naturally devolves on the one who opens the debate to clear the ground by stating the question in full, with all necessary amplification, exposition of terms, proposed limitations, etc. His arguments, too, will be constructive and positive. Of course he is at liberty to anticipate counter arguments, objections and refutations. Such a course will tend to weaken the force of those arguments when they are brought forward by an opponent. On the other hand, there is the risk that it may be only so much wasted energy, for an opponent may choose not to advance the argument or objection at all, though if he does this simply because he feels that its force has been already weakened, the energy can hardly be considered
wasted. The duty of those who follow the first speaker or writer is, primarily, to refute the arguments advanced by the other side ; and, secondarily, to establish the contrary. This latter is not always considered essential; it depends somewhat on the purpose of the discussion and the form in which the question is stated.
As to the form of the so-called “question," it is usually a declarative proposition and not an interrogation. This makes it easier to distinguish clearly between the affirmative and negative sides, the one affirming the truth of the proposition, the other denying it. The burden of proof lies with the affirmative. Three courses are open to the negative. The simplest one is merely to attempt to refute all the arguments offered in support and so leave the statement unproved. Or one may attack the statement itself, and, if possible, show it to be false, thus disproving it. The third course is to maintain the truth of some contrary proposition. This last is practically opening a new question and arguing on the affirmative side of it, question however which, proved, disproves the first. All three of these courses may be adopted in the same argument, though there is always more or less danger in attempting to prove too much.
The question is not only usually declarative in form, it should be put positively, — that is, it should not contain a negative, for this is apt to lead to comparison between the terms “affirmative side” and “negative side.” Thus, instead of saying Resolved, That Prohibition does not Prohibit, or Resolved, That Prohibition is a Failure, cast it in some such form as this, Resolved, That Prohibitory Laws can be and are Enforced.
The questions offered for debate in this exercise are questions of fact. They must be argued by references to observation and experience, by appeals to historical records, to statistics, and the like. The writers on the negative side should be furnished, if not with the entire paper, at least with an outline of the arguments of the affirmative side. Merely as practice in dialectics and as a help toward attaining the philosophical attitude of fairness and tolerance, it will be found profitable occasionally to defend a side which you do not really believe in. But the most effective work will always be done in defense of the cause you cherish.
Here again select questions of local and present interest if possible.
Questions of Opinion: Resolved, That Benedict Arnold's Action at West Point was Ex
the Best Interest of the United States.
more by Centralization than by Disintegration.
Vast numbers of questions of fact remain unsettled, - historical, geographical, astronomical, biological. So long as they are admittedly unsettled they are subjects for investigation and not for argumentation. It is only
when they have been considered settled by some while others dissent, or by all until something is discovered which reopens the question, that there is occasion for debating them. For then there will be strong arguments to meet and prejudices to overcome.
The Swiss, for example, are loth to let the story of William Tell's heroism be relegated from the authenticity of history to the obscurity of myth and legend. And Kopernik and his followers had need to argue, and to argue persistently, before they could hope that the world would give up the Ptolemaic theory of the universe.
But after all, the great majority of debates center about matters of opinion, questions not of what things are but of what they ought to be, questions of good or bad, of right or wrong, of prudence and expediency. Shall a college student be allowed to elect his studies ? Shall a public man be judged by his private life? Is democracy a sound political principle ?
Is a lie ever justifiable? Is there any absolute standard of morality? These are the questions that continually exercise us and call forth all our resources for attack and defense. There is nothing so provocative of debate as the knowledge that some one holds an opinion at variance with
We even dispute about tastes in spite of the old inhibition, which has a grain of sound sense back of it.
Let us admit that debate on matters of opinion is all right. Uniformity, among all individuals, of capabilities, acquirements, and tastes, would be no more desirable than uniformity in facial features and expression. But harmony of sentiment in such matters as we have alluded to above is in the main desirable. To bring